Are parents allowed to share custody during the UK lockdown? The rules around joint custody explained

Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 3:52 pm
Updated Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 3:58 pm
Children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes (Photo: Shutterstock)

With the UK now under lockdown as of Monday (23 Mar) evening, strict new measures have raised concerns about what freedoms are still allowed - particularly among parents.

Addressing the nation via a televised speech on BBC 1 on 23 March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered people to only leave their homes for specific and essential reasons.

So what does this mean for parents who share custody of their children?

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Can parents share custody during lockdown?

Parents who have separated can still share custody of their children during the UK lockdown, the government has confirmed.

The situation for children with separated parents was met with some confusion on Monday night (23 Mar), when Boris Johnson issued a ban on visiting any household, other than your own.

The tough restrictions raised concerns for children who divide their time between two parents, often by the order of a court, or as part of a divorce settlement.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove later added to the confusion on Tuesday (24 Mar) morning, telling ITV: “You should not be moving children from home to home.”

His comments were later clarified, with Mr Gove admitting he had not been “sufficiently clear”, and that children are able to move between both their parents - but movement should be “kept to a minimum”.

What is the official advice?

The official government guidance states: “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”.

Mr Gove clarified: “To confirm - while children should not normally be moving between households, we recognise that this may be necessary when children who are under 18 move between separated parents.

"This is permissible and has been made clear in the guidance."

What other lockdown restrictions are in place?

The new restrictions now mean people should only leave their home for the following four reasons:

- Infrequent shopping for basic necessities, such as food or medicine. People should use delivery services where they can

- One form of exercise per day, either alone or with people you live with

- For a medical need, such as a doctor or hospital visit, or to take care of the vulnerable

- To go to work, but only if this cannot be done from home

Shops that are permitted to stay open include supermarkets and other food shops, health shops, pharmacies, petrol stations, bicycle shops, home and hardware shops, launderettes and dry cleaners, garages, car rentals, pet shops, corner shops, newsagents, post offices and banks.

Parks will also remain open for exercise, but playgrounds and outdoor gym spaces will now be closed.

How will restrictions be enforced?

Mr Johnson said that police will have “the powers to enforce” these rules, and can issue fines of £30 and dispersal orders.

This is similar to measures put in place in other European countries, including France, which has issued more than 90,000 fines since the lockdown began a week ago.

France has also issued citizens with forms to fill out whenever they leave the house, which details precisely why they are out.

How long will the UK lockdown last?

The lockdown measures will initially be in place for at least three weeks, taking effect immediately from Monday (23 Mar) night.

The situation will then be reviewed in 21 days and relaxed if the Government believes it to be possible and safe to do so.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Government advice

As of Monday 23 March the prime minister has put the UK into lockdown and instructed all citizens to stay at home. People can only leave their homes to exercise once a day, go shopping for food and medication, travel for medical needs or to care for a vulnerable person, and travel to work only if essential. Police will be able to enforce these restrictions.

All non-essential shops will close with immediate effect, as will playgrounds, places of worship and libraries. Large events or gatherings of more than two people cannot go ahead, including weddings and celebrations. Funerals can only be attended by immediate family.Children of separated parents can go between both parents' homes.

Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.

The government has now instructed bars, restaurants, theatres and non-essential businesses to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis. Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.

The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.

For more information on government advice, please check their website gov.uk

Should I avoid public places?

You should now avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next. 111.nhs.uk/covid-19

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS